Review: India.Arie’s ‘SongVersation’ Is Chicken Soup For The Soul
India.Arie’s fifth album speaks to your soul
India.Arie walked onto the tidy set of Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” arm-in-arm with the talk show behemoth. She eased herself into the cushy crème seat face relaxed as she rehashed the turbulence that led to her 2009 leave of absence. The 2002 Grammy shutout (she was nominated for seven awards but took home none), a broken engagement, and battling music management for her creative vision made her feel like she just couldn’t bounce back. “I was in a constant state of recovery,” she told Oprah. Four years and one spiritual awakening later, India’s got a SongVersation on her heart that needs to be shared.
The Denver-born vocalist has made amends with her past and realigned with her purpose, tagging listeners just in time for the epiphany. “What did not demolish me simply polished me/Now the clearer I can see,” she sings on “SoulBird Rise,” the recurring concept splicing the project with four interludes and the aforementioned song. Arie’s fifth studio album seems almost directionless in its design, coasting across pressure points and moments of release for 20 tracks (save for a couple upbeat ditties). The nearly hour-long listen is equal parts autobiographical and inspirational.
“Just Do You” mimics the groove of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” while encouraging individuality and proactivity towards reaching goals. We’re reacquainted with the afro-clad Arie from Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship (2006) on “Cocoa Butter,” the album’s first single. Sonically, it’s a carbon copy of “I Am Not My Hair”— the manifesto that made her name synonymous with natural lifestyles— but it’s a moving earful nonetheless. “Break the Shell” drives the uplifting message home more eloquently. “You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself/You cannot fly until you break the shell,” she riffs jubilantly, enunciating every word with her chest. On “Thy Will Be Done,” spirited drums, a chorus of trumpets and vibrant Irie riddims interrupt the album’s ethereal flow. “Let me use my art for the healing of humanity,” she sings. The melodic antidote dished out had a boomerang effect. During her hiatus, she reaffirmed that music was her God-given path and if she returned, she would only do what fulfilled her spirit.
The songstress’s inner peace transmits effortlessly through speakers. Lightly pressed piano keys, the gentle pitter-patter of bongos, sultry coos of her backup singers and Arie’s own buttery voice massage the knots out of a bad mood. Stripped-down production beautifies the simplicity of acoustic artistry: Delicate fingers pluck strings underneath intimate vocals. Besides being a calming agent, SongVersation looks for ways a lost soul can evolve into a better friend, sister, lover and, most importantly, a better self. This time around, India.Arie’s figured it out. —Stacy-Ann Ellis (@stassi_x)